How B2B Buyers Find Successful Tech Solutions
Given several online channels, where should you invest?
Information in today’s digital milieu has been a double-edged sword for sales and marketing. It works if you can control it. Information comes from your sales team, your website and your press releases; outside that – it’s a free-for-all.
What we often have to deal with is a highly evolved B2B buyer, someone who has searched across several online platforms. According to The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing, a 2014 research conducted by the Marketing Leadership Council of CEB (now known as Gartner) in partnership with Google, this person will not face a sales rep until 57 percent of their buyer’s journey is done.
So, it pays to ask: How do B2B buyers search for tech solutions and how can you ensure you’re there, at every stage of their buyer’s journey?
B2B BUYER BEHAVIOR
There have been several studies on today’s buyer behavior, and one standout commonality is that these individuals go online first before reaching out to a sales team (if ever they do).
A 2014 study by the Acquity Group pegs the number of B2B buyers who do online research at 94 percent.
Analytics advocate at Google, Adam Singer confirms this at a ClickZ Live conference in San Francisco and adds that a person, on average, checks out 10.4 online resources before reaching out to a sales rep.
A BUYER'S JOURNEY IN THE DIGITAL AGE
It raises a red flag that a lot of people are looking for a self-service buying experience. About 31 percent say they prefer an unassisted online purchase, with phone support only as a just in case. Another 10 percent say they want zero assistance, while 12.5 percent say they want to be walked through the purchasing process.
You can’t help but wonder where, in the digital age buyer’s journey, would the sales team figure in?
According to the CEB study, you only get a 12 percent mindshare (public awareness) for each typical buyer who goes through the buyer’s journey. This share spans across a variety of channels.
The Salesforce’s Pardot survey, 2013 State of Demand Generation Report, claims that 71.7 percent of buyers start with a Google search. This is followed by personal networks at 15.6 percent and social networks at 2 percent.
This brings us to a familiar B2B scenario, typical in today’s buyer’s journey: Say your company is looking for a CTI solution that integrates your phone systems to your CRM. You get on the project and do an online research. This leads you to a variety of business websites, such as Salesforce and Tenfold. You also look into industry forums to see what your peers have to say about the many vendors in the CTI market. You read blogs, reviews and how-to articles to see if the system suits your requirements and has the flexibility that you need. Through your research, you come up with the top three vendors, which you then invite to present and bid.
This might sound like a good deal because a sales-ready buyer comes to you. But, consider too that in no part of their buyer’s journey are you able to influence and educate.
Instead, you function only as an order-taker. It can be hard to sway them otherwise – unless you can overcome the three main hurdles in B2B marketing and sales: ineffective digital integration, unfocused content and an un-optimized mix of online channels.
THE MILLENNIAL INFLUENCE
The Pew Research Center has found that millennials are the biggest generation cluster in the American workforce today. There is more than one millennial in every three employees in the job market. And, they are working closer toward positions of influence when it comes to B2B purchases.
According to a 2014 survey conducted by Google and research company Millward Brown Digital, millennials make up 46 percent of prospective B2B buyers. This data is up from 2012’s 27 percent, which signifies the growing influence of this generation.
Director of Business and Industrial Markets for Google, Mike Miller, says this represents a “big shift in a two-year time span.” He believes this is partly due to the retirement of baby boomers and a new powerhouse generation is emerging in the lead.
This requires rehashing old B2B marketing strategies that formerly target senior-level executives. While millennials may still not hold positions of power, their influence is clear. They make up 24 percent of non-executives tasked to help in B2B purchasing decisions. This is a generation that grew up at a time when mobile phones and the internet were readily available. You can be sure they will use these access and mobility tools in B2B research and recommendations.
THE MULTI-CHANNEL B2B BUYER
The multiple-channel buyer is always connected and researching online through mobile phones, tablets and desktops. They have mobility and access. They read your websites, reviews and blogs; and might have even downloaded one of your demos. They attend conferences and seminars – sometimes online – to learn about industry breakthroughs and innovations.
According to the Google/ Millward Brown Digital study, by 2014, 34 percent of those involved in B2B purchasing decisions use their mobile devices at each stage of their journey. This is almost twice the devoted mobile users/ B2B buyers of 2012. Mobile phone usage extends to work places and social gatherings and includes requests for bids, product comparisons, video viewing and contacting the vendor.
The increase in video viewing is another metric attributed to the multiple-channel buyer. According to YouTube, more than 895,000 hours of videos viewed are those by top B2B brands. In fact, 70 percent of those surveyed by Google say they use videos to learn more about products before making a purchase.
The availability of seemingly limitless information empowers the new B2B buyer. And because they access content at each step of their buyer’s journey, you too must be on this content train.
According to the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs’s 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America, 88 percent of marketers implement content marketing strategies. 76 percent of these say that they will include content marketing allocation by 2015. On average, 28 percent of the marketing budgets go to content marketing. However, those who are most effective at it spend around 42 percent.
So, remember that the modern B2B buyer is swimming in a sea information. Your share shouldn’t just be a forgettable drop.
INFLUENCING THE JOURNEY
Traditional marketing campaigns have been rendered obsolete by B2B buyers who are empowered with information. Their product learning can’t coincide with your campaign plans because they go about it on their own, online.
Here are a few steps to take to start a comprehensive digital integration program, according to the Marketing Leadership Council of CEB:
1.Document existing campaign architectures. Make sure to take note of effective strategies and their output.
2.Review marketing practices to see what works and what doesn’t. A dialogue with the sales and marketing team is necessary to get to the real score regarding these practices.
3. Observe and analyze external practices that have worked to get you closer to your goals.
4. Select, codify and implement best practices.
5. Recreate the campaign architecture and refine practices that don’t work as expected.
6. Repeat the process until you reach your ideal.
7. Put together an implementation guideline, as well as an accessible resource center for the guidelines, necessary tools and other information regarding your digital integration.
PURPOSEFUL + FOCUSED CONTENT
Many B2B marketers have taken on content marketing like it was the latest must-have trend. This has resulted in content that’s highly unorganized and lacks a consistent and purposeful message. This type of information does not teach and, it does not engage enough to take the next step in their buyer’s journey with you.
There are several realities that might have factored into this situation. For instance, your web team may have been focused on ranking your website in search results, without being consistent and driving your true message. You might have outsourced your social media management, without providing guidelines on your corporate messaging.
It is important to rectify this, as soon as possible, because your customer engagement is centered on your content. It comes in at all stages of the buyer’s journey.
This is where the so-called coverage orientation comes in. B2B marketers pinpoint topics that interest your target audience, and ensure that you consistently offer fresh stories. This can be a fruitful content marketing strategy as long as you have a good understanding of your customers.
SMART, TARGETED CHANNEL MIX
Given several online channels, where should you invest in? Which channels will bring the most qualified leads?
There are many ways to develop a targeted channel mix. However, the first step is to recognize your traditionally fragmented approach.
However you’re doing it right now, it is important to account for your efforts, and assess your channel effectiveness. The metrics to use here are often readily available with the team tasked with each channel assignment.
Then, invest more in an expert analytics professional, someone who can accurately assess your channel efforts and audience response. Use your findings to put together a model channel mix, one that suits your target market and gets your messaging right.